Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lyfe, Lyberty, and...

Film: The Pursuit of Happyness
Format: DVD from Rasmussen College Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t really know why I haven’t warmed to Will Smith as an actor, given that Will Smith is more or less genetically created to be warmed to. I think what it comes down to is that I don’t always trust him as an actor. He makes some good movies and he’s capable of doing a solid dramatic turn; witness a film like Ali. But he also has a penchant for giant blockbusters, many of which (Wild Wild West leaps to mind, as does the product placement bonanza of I, Robot) are terrible. And some of his dramatic films are pretty terrible, too. So there’s a reason that The Pursuit of Happyness has been sitting on my desk for months until I finally got around to it today.

As with any biography, we’re going to be dealing with something that is partially true and partially cinematic foofery. In this case, what appears to be the case is that we’re not so much changing history as omitting things that don’t particularly reflect well on our title character. That character is Chris Gardner (Will Smith). Gardner sells a particular piece of medical equipment that is a little better than an x-ray machine but costs about twice as much. According to the film, he sunk his life savings into these machines, assuming that they would revolutionize the way x-rays were taken only to find that the machines were incredibly hard to unload. This is a problem, since he and his wife Lisa (Thandie Newton) and their son Christopher Jr. (Jaden Smith, before he became annoying and bent on convincing Twitter that he is either insane or some sort of prophet) are behind on taxes, rent, and just about everything else.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What the Dog Saw

Film: Reuben, Reuben
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There’s a specific genre of film that seems odd to me. It’s essentially a character study of an unpleasant person. Sometimes, these films merit Oscar nominations. The most recent I can think of is Blue Jasmine, but Reuben, Reuben is a film very much in the same vein. We’re going to spend a great deal of time with a man who is more or less forced to be interesting because otherwise we’d want nothing to do with him.

The name of the film has nothing to do, really, with our main character. That is one Gowan McGland (Tom Conti), a dissolute half-Scots, half-Welsh poet of both repute and disrepute. His poetry has made him famous, at least in circles that care a bit about poetry. Everything else about him has made him infamous. He’s a womanizer, taken to bedding the middle-aged wives who show up at his poetry readings. He’s a drunk. He’s also a leech, sponging off anyone who is impressed by his talent, going so far as to steal the tips in restaurants before leaving. Worst of all, at least in terms of his career, is that he’s lazy and hasn’t written a thing for five years.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

South American Way, Part IV

Film: That Man from Rio (L’homme de Rio)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been dodging a specific bullet for some time, but today my wife informed me that I’m running out of time. We're due for an upgrade on our DVR, and the one we have is so old that there’s no way to get the saved programs from it to a new one and no way to access our DVR from a computer or other device. What this means is that I have a couple of weeks at best to watch the things I’ve saved that I can’t get via other means. It’s not a massive problem, but it does put a rush on watching the half dozen or so that I have saved. I had plans to watch something different today, but necessity dictates burning through some otherwise unavailable films. The most recent of these recordings was That Man from Rio (or L’homme de Rio in its original French).

That Man from Rio is almost a precursor to the Austin Powers series, perhaps much more closely akin to Matt Helm or Derek Flint. The difference is that in all of these cases, the heroes are actual spies. In this case, our spy-like hero is actually a French airman named Adrien Dufourquet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on an 8-day pass returning to Paris. He’s there to see his girlfriend Agnes Villermosa (Francoise Dorleac). Since this is going to be an espionage spoof, though, things aren’t going to be that simple.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)

Film: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Cemetery Man (also known as Dellamorte Dellamore) is a couple of things at the same time. It’s a bit of a cult film in that it’s the sort of film that film nerds and horror geeks know and not a lot of other people do. It’s also part of the subgenre of horror comedy. So far, so good. Where it hits a roadblock for me is that it’s also Italian horror, and there we have some potential problems. I don’t love Italian horror in general. It’s stylish, but often devoid of substance or even coherence. Dario Argento is the king of this; his films are visually fascinating and frequently make no sense on a basic plot level.

Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) works more or less as the groundskeeper for a cemetery in Buffalora, Italy. He and his assistant Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro) dig the graves, put the bodies to rest and, after seven days, put many of them back in the grave when they rise again. Francesco doesn’t know if this is something happening only at his graveyard or at graveyards around the country or world. What he does know is that he seems to be the gatekeeper against a potentially rising horde of undead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Helping Hands

Film: Vera Drake
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

There’s a generation or so of British actresses that I love in just about everything. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, and Joan Plowright come to mind. Imelda Staunton is a bit younger than that group, but she’s just about in the same league. What Staunton can do that the others don’t do as well is play what the Monty Python crew called a “pepperpot,” a stereotypical middle-aged British housewife. That’s absolutely the case in Vera Drake, where, aside from the seriousness of the drama at play here, she could have stepped out of a skit about Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion.

It’s some time into the film before we really get a sense of what is happening. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) works as a domestic for a number of families in post-World War II London. She also spends a good deal of her time looking after people who need help, including her infirm mother and a neighbor named Reg (Eddie Marsan), who she invites to tea, perhaps surreptitiously hoping that Reg might become attracted to her painfully shy and mousey daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly). Vera and her husband Stan (Phil Davis) live a normal life as much as they can in the still-rationing world of 1950s London, a fact that their son Sid (Daniel Mays) plays to his advantage. His job in a clothing shop gives him access to nylons, which he trades to his friends for small luxuries.